Picture of Innocence(4)

By: Jacqueline Baird

Lucy had countered with a request for the next morning, sacrificing her plan to explore the town and the famed arena. Her appointment with the Contessa was in the afternoon. The secretary had told her it was not possible, but she could wait if she liked. She had had no choice but to agree.

‘Miss Steadman?’

He repeated her name and, startled out of her wandering thoughts, she glanced up at him, green eyes clashing with brown. The arch look he gave her was all male arrogance.

‘You’re a determined little thing, I’ll give you that,’ he drawled and, turning to his secretary, said something in Italian that sounded like ‘ten minutes—then call’ before throwing over his shoulder, ‘Come, Miss Steadman. This will not take much time.’

Lucy bit back the response that sprang to mind. It had already taken a heck of a lot of her time. Pausing for a moment, she tried to smooth the creased black linen skirt she wore—a pointless exercise—and watched the broad back of the man as he disappeared into his inner sanctum, the door swinging closed behind him. He might be strikingly attractive, but he was certainly no gentleman, and her nerves tightened a notch.

‘You’d better go in now,’ the secretary said. ‘Signor Zanelli does not like to be kept waiting.’

Given how long she had been waiting—her appointment had been for two and it was now after three—Zanelli had some nerve, she thought, her temper rising. Dismissing the odd effect he had on her own nerve, she squared her shoulders and, taking a few deep breaths, walked across the room and into the man’s office.

He was standing behind a large antique desk, talking rapidly into a telephone which he put down when he saw her.

‘Take a seat.’ He indicated a chair in front of the desk as he sank into a big black leather one behind it. ‘Then say what you have to say, and make it quick—my time is valuable.’

He had not waited for her to sit down. In fact he was well on the way to being the rudest man she had ever met, and she had been right to dislike him sight unseen, Lucy decided, her green eyes sparking angrily.

She said without thinking, ‘I can’t believe you are Antonio’s brother.’

Antonio had been handsome and lovable, and her brother Damien’s best friend at university. Lucy had been fourteen when her brother had brought Antonio home the first time for the mid-term break, and she had developed a terrific crush on the young Italian—so besotted she had actually started taking Italian language lessons at school. Antonio, only four years older, but a decade older in experience, had not taken advantage—quite the opposite. He had treated her as a friend and had not made her feel foolish at all. Unlike this hard-faced man, looking at her across the wide expanse of the desk with cold eyes and without a tender bone in his body, she was sure.

‘You are nothing like him. You look nothing like him.’

Lorenzo was surprised. Lucy Steadman had spirit. Her face had flushed with colour, highlighting the delicate bone structure. She wasn’t plain as he had thought, but she was angry. His mouth tightened. He did not want to fight with her, he simply wanted her out of his sight as quickly as possible—before his anger got the better of him and he told her in return exactly what he thought of her brother …

‘You are right. My younger brother was the beautiful one, both inside and out, whereas I—so Antonio used to tell me—am a serious, hard-headed banker with ice in his veins who should lighten up and enjoy life. Not that it did Antonio much good,’ he said starkly.

For a moment Lucy thought she saw pain shadow his eyes as he spoke. She had been tactless, letting her dislike of the man show, and politely offered her sympathy. ‘I am sorry … so sorry,’ she murmured, as the memory of the tragic accident that had killed his brother and which she felt had been instrumental in the death of hers filled her mind. ‘I understand how you feel,’ she said, and began telling him about her brother.

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